If it Involves a Vote, it Involves Jessica Levinson
If you live in Southern California -- or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter -- and followed the 2012 election, then you probably benefited from Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson’s analyses of the biggest campaign-related stories of the year.
Levinson '05 employs a multi-pronged approach to advocacy that includes opinion articles, media commentary, conference presentations and scholarly writing. She admits to being blessed with the ability to “write quickly,” which makes her a go-to expert for media in need of someone to break down complex legal issues in an easily digestible way. That’s a skill Levinson prides herself on. And she has done it regularly for TV networks like Fox and NBC, local outlets like KNBC, KABC and KCET, NPR-affiliate KPCC and a host of print and online publications.
“My mom actually told me when I was little, ‘If you can’t explain it in a few sentences so your friend at Thanksgiving can understand it, then you probably don’t understand it yourself.’”
She tries to instill that in her students, too. Levinson’s course load includes “Money, Politics and the Supreme Court,” plus seminars on campaign finance and privacy torts. She spends a lot of class time asking students the same questions she asks herself when writing an op-ed, namely: “What does this boil down to?” and “What does this actually mean?’
And her instincts tend to pay off. “Almost every issue that I talked about in my election law class came to the forefront in this election,” Levinson said. She pointed to voter access, redistricting, the efficacy of ballot measures and last but not least, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, as the biggest talking points coming out of 2012.
The Citizens United case is one that still rankles Levinson. In its opinion, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent corporate political spending. “The history of campaign finance law was ruined with that stroke of the pen,” she said. It bothered Levinson so much that she spent last summer arguing that the act of spending money should not be equated with free speech in an article for the 2013 University of Richmond Law Review entitled, “The Original Sin of Campaign Finance Law: Why Buckley v. Valeo is Wrong.”
And when she’s not taking on contentious Supreme Court decisions in her spare time, Levinson enjoys walking around Los Angeles taking photos, many of which hang in her second-floor office in the Fritz B. Burns Academic Center. She says photography gives her the opportunity to “cheat time” by snapping shots of fleeting beauty. And for someone as busy as Levinson, even a momentary break from the seemingly endless election cycle can be a much needed respite.
“It’s like a meditation or an escape,” she says. “If you really get into taking the picture then you can’t think about anything else.”